Productivity: Week 1 Results (and self analysis)

I spent last week doing a productivity experiment that was really just a project of tracking of what I wanted to accomplish and what I actually did accomplish. Though the experiment didn’t turn out the way I had wanted it to, I learned some things about myself, and in this post, I share what I’m hoping to do about it to become more productive in the future.

Here’s my productivity list for last Wednesday (July 24):

  • Read about internet marketing — 60 mins.
  • Blogged my Monday productivity — 15 mins.
  • Devotion and Prayer — 10 mins.
  • fix look of blog and add comments — 10 mins.
  • Completed survey for research project on church planters — 40 mins.
  • Lunch and playing with Charlie — 1.25 hrs.
  • Processing voicemail and cleaning out email Inbox (finally) — 3 hrs.
  • Phone calls throughout the afternoon — 30 mins.
  • Evening phone calls — 60 mins.

(I didn’t even get a list done for Thursday.)

Analysis of the week

At the end of last week and throughout the week, I determined that productivity for me isn’t something I can just willpower my way into. I’m generally a very active person mentally, and my tendency to be distracted means that I’m regularly failing to finish projects all the way. I didn’t even get all my daily blog entries written last week (and it’s already Wednesday of this week!)

All in all, I think it was a good experiment, and I hope that some of the more obvious things I’ve learned will help me be more productive.

Things I Learned

As a result, here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  1. Productivity for me will not happen without a list of daily goals. More specifically, as I looked at the list of things I actually did each day, I realized that though many of them were beneficial to my overall ministry, not many of them were essential or high priority items.

  2. Productivity for me will not happen in a “distractable” environment. My tendencies toward ADD make it very easy for me to follow mental rabbit trails. For example, reading my email through Gmail leads to me seeing news clips that interest me. Thinking that I can read the story in only a few seconds, I click on the link, but that story will have other links to more information, and before I know it, I’m deeply embedded in open Firefox tabs with a sense that I have to read them all before I can get back to answering that email.

  3. The mundane, mindless, routine tasks of ministry are the most dangerous for time-wasting because during those tasks, my brain is allowed to work overtime on discovering rabbit trails. For example, while my weekly sermon is being encoded and uploaded to the Internet Archive, I can do other things with the computer and that usually means frittering.

  4. The biggest thing I learned is that the most important tasks on my todo list create a kind of paralyzing guilt that hampers my productivity.

Let me explain that last point. I need to write a sermon every week for church on Sunday. I know that the process of writing a really good sermon takes me about 20 hours, but that I can create a pretty good sermon in only 8 hours. As a result, something very strange happens in my mind as the week moves on.

If I don’t get an early start on my message, I face a daily increasing level of stress as the week moves on. Because I feel so much pressure to get my message done, I feel guilty doing any other ministry. I don’t want to meet with people, I don’t want to make phone calls, and I don’t want to have any meetings because to do any of those things feels like I’m stealing from sermon prep time. If I do some ministry that isn’t sermon prep, I actually feel guilty and unproductive. However, if I put in a 4 hour block of time on my sermon, I feel the logistical pressure of needing to make phone calls, meet with people, and call meetings. So working on my sermon feels like stealing from other ministry.

My problem is that I have no internal sense of process. For me, everything is right now and nothing that should be done should wait to be done. As a result, I simply can never determine emotionally which ministry I should do right now. Make phone calls or work on sermon. Whichever I choose, I end up feeling guilty that I didn’t do the other one. I’ve been this way for long enough that I’ve grown to expect it and anticipate the guilty feeling even before I’ve made the choice and quite often the end result is that I do neither. I escape into family time, reading time, web browsing, email or mindless routine items.

I just spent about 15 minutes browsing the ‘Net to see if there were any blogs that addressed procrastination, but I’m back now!

Strategy for Going Forward

To answer my four learning points above, I’m suggesting this to myself and to you as a possible strategy:

  1. Set aside 4 hours each Monday for sermon prep without Internet access with a primary goal of getting draft sermon outlines done 2 weeks before the Sunday they are needed (I want to move this to 4 weeks before it’s needed).
  2. Use Sunday afternoon to do sermon podcast stuff until I can recruit someone else to do that for me.
  3. While the podcast is encoding/uploading on Sundays, I’ll make calls based on communication cards thus keeping me off the computer.
  4. Each day, I’ll make a list of things to accomplish and identify which ones can happen on the computer and how long those will take.
  5. BONUS: I don’t think I can make this happen because of the distractability thing, but I’d like to publish my daily todo list to the Internet so that I’ll be more accountable for how I spend my time.